Wind power is one of the world’s fastest-growing energy sectors, and advancements in power storage and generation could further boost the energy efficiency of modern wind turbines.
The cost of wind energy in the U.S. has dropped more than 90% since 1980. As such, investment in wind energy has risen dramatically in recent years. Last year, wind accounted for 6.3% of the country’s total electricity supply, and investment in the sector increased by 9%. Growth is showing few signs of slowing — in fact, as of January 2018, there were nearly 28,700 MW of new American wind projects underway.
The rise in wind power investment bodes well not only for the future of sustainable energy, but also for the success of many other sectors — including the air compressor market. The influx of wind projects introduces valuable opportunities for air compressor applications in renewable energy storage and propulsion.
Gusting Into the Future
The American energy industry is increasingly incentivized to pursue offshore wind facilities, especially in regions such as the northeast where states cannot designate as much physical land for wind energy development as larger, less populous states may be able to.
“The U.S. will certainly take advantage of the path already traveled by the EU offshore market and will be in a position to catch up in just a few years,“ said Alejandro de Hoz, vice president of U.S. offshore projects for Avangrid Renewables.
Aside from the obvious benefits of a free fuel source, total sustainability, and clean energy production, wind power is extremely cost-effective, amounting to just two to six cents per kilowatt-hour. The sector is also proving especially effective in creating jobs and bolstering the economy — in 2016, some 100,000 people gained employment in wind energy. In 2018, the sector is expected to contribute approximately $20 billion to the U.S. economy.
Making Power Storage a Breeze
Wind energy is already efficient, but compressed air could increase storage capacity and turbine propulsion while cutting energy losses.
Somewhat similar to a pumped-hydro power plant system, compressed air energy storage (CAES) systems work by compressing ambient air to be stored under high pressure — generally in an underground cavern — and as needed, subsequently heated and expanded via a turbine that drives a generator to produce electricity.
Though CAES systems have been proposed for many years, their restrictive geological requirements and prohibitive costs have long limited their real-world development and application. However, a number of energy storage companies are investing time and resources into the research of new technology that could make CAES systems practical, cost-effective solutions to high-volume energy storage. CAES systems may be especially well-suited for offshore wind facilities, as they can be installed in underground caverns or in expandable tanks.
Innovations That Blow the Mind
With some technological advancements, air compressors also have the potential to reduce operational costs and raise the gross electricity production of offshore wind energy farms. Engineers from a number of companies are investigating circulation control technology that can be used to redirect air flow on turbine blades to increase energy efficiency.
Air turbine blades have traditionally been built in complex shapes and operated via complicated mechanical control systems to optimize the power of natural wind. Aerodynamic circulation control eliminates the need for both complex blade shapes and confusing operational technology. A technology originally developed to heighten lift in aircraft wings, air circulation control works on turbines by using compressed air that emerges from slots on the trailing edges of hollow blades to modify the blade’s aerodynamic properties.
The effect of this technology is increased power, torque, and aerodynamic force from the airfoil’s reimagined shape. Ultimately, this would likely allow a reduction in size of many modern turbines as well as the safe operation of turbines in high speed winds — which pose damage risks for current models.
What’s more, the compressed air used in circulation control allows turbines to operate effectively at lower wind speeds. The implications of this include increasing accessibility to wind energy, as lower operational wind speed requirements could enable turbines to be installed in regions of low natural wind force.
Most importantly, when applied to wind turbines, the technology may be able to produce significantly more electricity than modern models at the same wind speeds. In fact, preliminary research from Georgia Tech estimates that blades outfitted with circulation control technology could generate between 30 to 40% more energy than traditional turbines.
A Breath of Fresh Air
A number of engineering and financial challenges may remain if compressed air is to find widespread applications in energy storage or circulation control technology for the wind energy sector. However, the impetus behind the development of these new technologies is a commitment to increased sustainability and energy efficiency — two values that we share.
Mattei is committed to powering your world — in everything from your favorite automobile brands to the energy needed to fuel utilities and businesses in your neighborhood. That’s why we’re tuned into the latest innovations in energy and excited to see what the future of wind power may bring.